Recovery Workshop: Orientation
Introduction to the Recovery Workshop
A Structured, Self-Guided Approach
This is a self-guided workshop. Each lesson should take you between 15-120 minutes — with a few exceptions. Some, like the lesson on creating your life's vision, have no time limit. It is the quality of your effort that matters — whether it takes you an hour or a month to reach.
It is not essential that you complete a lesson each day — you are free to go at the speed best suited to your resources of time and energy. But no matter at what speed you progress, note that a strong foundation for permanent change can be accomplished in approximately three months — not sooner. That means you will need to invest three months of active, conscious effort to make permanent changes to your life. If it takes you three years — or three decades — to fulfill this 'three month investment', so be it. Just be willing to accept the consequences that three more years or three more decades of addiction will have on the remainder of your life.
Click on the day's Lesson Topic to open the lesson. Remember that lessons are only one half of the workshop. They are the intellectual side of things. You must supplement this intellectual learning with practical application if you are to be successful. Reading all of the lessons is NOT "completing the workshop". No more than reading the Bible or the Koran is the equivalent of being spiritual. Understanding what you are reading within the context of your own life and applying the concepts to your day-to-day existence — that is how real change will occur.
At the end of each lesson, exercises can be found to enhance your personal application of the material. Place your responses to these exercises in your personal recovery thread in either the 'Self-Help Recovery Threads' forum (for those on the self-help path) or the 'Personal Coaching Recovery Threads' private coaching forum (for those in private coaching).
What to Expect
Transitions — they occur every time you face a major life event. Death, marriage, divorce, graduation, being raped, being fired, being promoted, having an affair, ending a relationship, having a child, retirement...life is full of transitions. Some triggered by positive events, some from devastating ones. But almost every time you experience one, you are faced with the feelings of insecurity, pain, confusion and anxiety. And, with more positive, constructive feelings like personal challenge and the opportunity for growth...but these are not as readily seen and may not occur within the immediacy of the crisis. Your role is to recognize that there will likely be two major transitions that you will encounter throughout this workshop: one that occurs as you go from acting out to active recovery; the other as you go from active recovery to an active pursuit of health. These will be explored in greater detail later.
Recovery itself is a transition. It is a process of change. And like all healthy transitions, it will be most effective when there is an ending, an emptiness/loss and finally, a new beginning. Not preparing for a full transition to health is a trap that many fall into in early recovery. They see the first transition (from addiction to active recovery) as 'recovery'. But it is not. It is only a part of a healthy recovery process. For these individuals, 'managing their addiction/compulsive behavior' is their immediate goal. It is what they expect and it is how they measure their recovery success. They are not aware of, and so they don't prepare for the second transition: moving from active recovery to health.
If you currently believe that learning to control your destructive behavior constitutes recovery — it does not. Stopping your compulsive behavior is merely a single step in the process of transitioning from active addiction to active recovery. Even with a recovery platform involving the pursuit of absolute abstinence, to continue holding on to a belief such as, "until it is proven to me that I will never again have the need to act out, I will be content with controlling my compulsive behaviors to the best of my ability — without actually committing myself to ending them permanently...", you will not experience an ending to your addiction — merely a series of temporary reprieves. And because an ending has not taken place, a healthy transition cannot be experienced. It just can't. You cannot wait until you have replaced your compulsive patterns with something more satisfying, before committing yourself to changing. The decision to commit to ending those destructive patterns must come first. Then an ending occurs. Then a new beginning.
In recovery from compulsive behavior and/or addiction, there must be an ending (emotionally and physically) to your addiction before you can accurately perceive a new beginning to your life. Until this ending takes place, you will continue to see any future dreams and aspirations — including your ability to live without the addictions — with an asterisk. That asterisk will remind you that you can always go back to the compulsions if things don't go the way you want them to. That you always have a way out of taking responsibility for what happens in your life. Soon after this ending occurs, you will likely experience an emptiness — a confusion. A sense of loss. You may go weeks and/or months (depending on how ingrained the addiction was) with a feeling that you are not yourself. That something is missing. This void is an experience that, while having the potential to be extremely uncomfortable, is a clear sign that you are putting yourself in a position for true, core change to take place. It is a sign that real change is taking place to your core identity. More on this later.
If you are a healthy person, looking for a healthy partnership, would the person you select be one who just broke up with their long-time partner? Chances are, you wouldn't. Why? Because rebound relationships never work out. Now, I'm sure that some do, but there is some logic in the fact that most don't. When this break-up is fresh, there has not been an ending to it. There remain unresolved feelings that must be managed before that individual is capable of fully creating a beginning with someone new. They need time to reduce the emotional intensity that is currently attached to that person/relationship — be those feelings positive, negative or both. They need time to regain their emotional balance and direction. Once this occurs, they will be free to explore new relationships with new partners. They will be free to explore and experience others with a clear mind and without transferring the intensity of one relationship onto another. They will be able to see the new relationship as it is, not as it relates to the old relationship. They will have completed a successful transition.
What happens in an unsuccessful transition? You name it. The person tries to replace the emotional intensity of a longtime partner with that of the new one — an impossible role if ever there was one. The person tries to intoxicate themselves with the passion that new relationships offer — which allows them to temporarily forget about the long-term relationship they were just in. The person continues to experience mixed emotions regarding the old partner, which then get transferred onto the new relationship. There are hundreds of things that can take place in an unhealthy transition. The one thing that each shares is the lack of a clear ending. Somehow, in some way, the behavior (or person, or event) that the person is attempting to transition from is kept alive. Somewhere in their brain, they are not completely letting go — just in case. And so they hold on to that person — there is no ending to the relationship.
In recovery, an ending can be seen as the absolute commitment to recover. A feeling that, no matter what happens from here on out, I am going to fight these damned compulsions every chance I get! I am going to use every tool in my arsenal. I am going to see my compulsive behaviors — and all they have done to my life (or kept me from doing) — and I am going to conquer them. That is what you are facing now. That is the first transition that you must undertake...if you are to permanently end these patterns. The behaviors involved with this transition will include the development of a functional understanding of your addiction along with an awareness/initial development of the tools necessary to end this addiction. As you begin to gain experience and confidence in managing your addiction, an emotional change will begin to take shape. You will begin to look around and realize that this addiction recovery work wasn't nearly as hard as you thought it would be. And this will breed additional confidence, along with an even more successful implementation of the tools. Soon thereafter, as you find more and more success in managing the compulsive urges...you will begin to experience the second stage of the transition: the emptiness.
The second common trap that people fall into when transitioning from compulsions to recovery (or from any emotionally intense behavior to another) is their perception involving the emptiness phase of a healthy transition. To understand this, let's take a brief look at the broader addictive process in a person's life. In most addictions, the person has come to depend on their addictive behavior to manage their emotional state. The longer this person relies on such patterns, the more intense and ingrained this pattern becomes. Now, this is an extremely brief synopsis, with many additional issues to be discussed later in the workshop, but the point is: without the ingrained addiction, they are left with an emotional void that is very real. And very uncomfortable. The trap is in seeing this void as proof that their addiction was a natural, necessary entity in their life. They begin to feel an emotional emptiness...no urges...no pleasure...no anything. And they assume that something is wrong. That they need their addiction in order to feel normal. And here comes the porn, or the masturbation, or the affairs. And then, right on cue...here comes the excitement and pleasure and passion. Along with the guilt and shame and depression. But it doesn't matter. They would rather feel all of the emotions, than to feel nothing at all. And so, relapse occurs.
I remember thinking many times throughout my own struggles that I would rather experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows than to ever take a medication that would dim my emotions. I never feared feeling bad. I never feared the chaos that was my life. Not the misery, nor the pain. I cherished my emotional extremes as I believed that it was my ability to experience such extremes that made me who I was. My only fear was to feel nothing at all. This is common with many people who struggle with addictive behavior. Even those who state that they drink or use drugs or otherwise act out in an effort to "numb the pain" of past abuse, overwhelming stress, etc., are not completely accurate. They drink, use or otherwise act out to shift the emotions that they are experiencing — not to dull them.
The point to this is simple. To someone used to experiencing the extremes of the emotional experience — and suffering from true compulsive behavior is to experience emotions to their extreme — the emptiness that comes with a transitional ending can be overwhelming. The blandness, the void that is created when eliminating the behavioral patterns that managed the majority of your emotions is like removing your soul. You no longer feel "normal". You feel as if there is something wrong inside of you; like you are broken somehow. You might even feel that, without these compulsive behaviors, life isn't even worth living. That it is these behaviors that made you special. So, inevitably, you go back to acting out because even the potential negative emotional consequences of your behavior (guilt, shame, failure, loneliness, etc.) are better than to have no emotions at all.
So, in preparing your road to recovery, you will need to prepare yourself for a time when you might feel empty inside. It will come after the euphoria of beginning your recovery, and it will come after you have put an end to your desire to continue your life the way that it is. This period may last a few days, it may last a few weeks. Rarely, will it ever last longer than that. And in those few weeks, your goal will be to recognize this emptiness, and begin to fill it with the values and the dreams that you believe in.
A New Beginning
Ah, a new beginning. That's what this whole thing is pretty much all about. Were you happy with your life the way that it is, you wouldn't be participating in this workshop. You seek a new beginning of some sort. Either in a relationship, a career or even possibly your entire life. You seek the opportunity to say to yourself, I didn't do things the way that I wanted to, and so I'd like to start over. Except this time, I am armed with the knowledge of where I want to go and how I want to get there. And I have learned the skills to succeed along that path.
At this point, it is not necessary for you to know exactly where you want to go (or the person that you want to be). You will develop a clear understanding of these things as the workshop progresses (your values/your goals — not ours). All that is necessary for you to understand now is that transitions do not end with a cessation of previous behaviors and then nothing. All transitions end with a new beginning.
The Seven Stages of a Permanent Recovery
The following summarizes seven critical stages that must be addressed when developing a foundation for a permanent transition to health. Mastering each stage in sequence will keep you on a direct path as you transition from a life based in addiction, to one that is based in health.
Stage 1: Lay the Foundation for Permanent Change
Whether this is your first recovery attempt or your fiftieth, it will be important to give yourself a 'fresh start'. This means that you must let go of all preconceptions relating to your addiction and your ability to recover. To make changes to patterns that have already become ingrained into your identity/lifestyle, a complete commitment to making these changes must take place. This is why the decision (aka the motivation) to end your addiction must come from within you. This will be covered extensively in the free workshop.
Along with your motivation for change, a solid base of insights must be gathered in order to pull together what is called a functional awareness of your addiction. Dealing with guilt/shame, understanding the role of emotions in compulsive decision-making, the role of values in managing emotions, concepts such as the 'all or nothing' principle and 'immediate gratification''...these are just some of the tools that will form the intellectual foundation for your recovery.
Stage 2: Develop Realistic Expectations
Until a strong recovery foundation is in place, it does little good to anticipate recovery outcomes. In fact, it can be downright detrimental. Upon completion of the first seven lessons, you should have a solid base with which to begin realistically looking at your recovery outcomes.
Setting realistic goals, managing common recovery obstacles, letting go of the dysfunctional belief that 'this time I will succeed', learning to measure progress in healthy terms: these are all topics that the workshop will guide you through.
Stage 3: Rebuild Your Identity
This is the beginning of the transition from recovery to health. In this stage, you begin to identify how your addiction-oriented identity influenced the majority of the destructive decisions that you have made. You will also learn how this same addiction-oriented identity is responsible for the hopelessness and helplessness that attaches itself to failed recovery attempts.
Rebuilding your identity requires developing the insights necessary to forgive yourself. Not forget, mind you...but you must give yourself the permission to succeed in changing your life. Without this, you will face an ongoing struggle with recovery sabotage and will not be able to fully commit to the process of change.
And remember, we are talking about rebuilding your life, not starting over. There is no magic pill that can be taken to erase the destructive consequences of your past actions. You will carry them with you forever. However, those who are able to effectively transition away from addiction have universally experienced a change in the way they view their past. A change in the way they view themselves. Their identity becomes fused with their values, not their addiction. The first step in accomplishing this change is to conduct an honest inventory so that your current strengths and weaknesses are used to guide your immediate development.
Stage 4: Managing the First Setback
With every recovery, there will be a 'first setback'. For most, there will be many such setbacks. A setback is not the same as a full blown relapse — relapse is not an expected part of the recovery process — but more so, this setback can be isolated to the point where you, engaging in absolute honesty with yourself, recognize that you have been acting/thinking in a manner that is not conducive to furthering your healthy identity. The moment you recognize this — ANY TIME that you recognize this — a plan must be in place that allows you to engage in a rational, healthy decision-making process. Developing a plan to manage such setbacks is an important objective when completing the free workshop.
Stage 5: Lifestyle Changes through Skill Development
Armed with a realistic expectation of your recovery process, your personal goals and your current strengths and weaknesses, you're now ready to pull all of the pieces together to begin transitioning to a healthy life. This means that, while you may not immediately benefit from such a transition, by learning to rely on your existing strengths/values and by strengthening those values that are currently weak or non-existent, you will have begun the transition from an addiction-based thought process to one based in health. An important note, when identifying which values and skills to develop, these are YOUR VALUES we are talking about, not ours. You choose what is important to you. This may include religion, it may not. It may include family reparations, it may not. It may include twelve step participation, it may not. What you value is something that only you can identify. This is yet another reason why the motivation for change must come from within you.
Stage 6: Prepare for Relapse
Just as it is important to prepare yourself to manage setbacks, it is equally important to prepare yourself for managing relapse. Or more specifically, relapse prevention. Without a clear, organized approach to relapse prevention, you may very well succeed in achieving abstinence — even long term abstinence — but you and your loved ones will forever be looking over your shoulders in fear. An effective relapse prevention plan will instill confidence in both you and your loved ones in knowing that the changes that are taking place are real. And they are permanent.
Stage 7: Progression, Not Perfection
The final stage in a permanent recovery process is to leave recovery behind. Once you have replaced your addiction-based identity with a value-based identity, once you have mastered the critical life management skills, once you have ingrained a process for monitoring complacency and relapse...the final stage of recovery is to put the addiction behind you. Inside, you will know that the person you once were, you no longer are. Critical to this change is the need to continue nourishing your healthy identity. To continue developing. Not because you have to to ward off a return of the addiction, but because it is what healthy people do. They grow and develop across their life span.
"The most difficult phase of life is not when no one understands you, it is when you don't understand yourself."